Giving Compass' Take:
- Libyan flooding caused by the collapse of two dams, caused significant harm to communities and prompted the call for improved climate infrastructure.
- How can donors support the push for climate infrastructure globally? How is infrastructure part of disaster relief funding?
- Learn about climate infrastructure investments.
What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
In the aftermath of the collapse of two dams in the Libyan coastal city of Derna, where floodwaters spawned by a powerful storm killed thousands of people, experts in engineering, environmental science, and other fields warn that global infrastructure must be adapted to deal with the climate crisis.
With a seasonal river running through it from the highlands to the south, Libya’s coastal city of Derna always had been vulnerable to flooding.
So, when engineers from the former Yugoslavia built a pair of dams near Derna in the 1970s, residents welcomed the project as a blessing—the protection they so badly needed from dangerous floodwaters that had devastated their lands in years past.
But now, the Mediterranean city of 90,000 is burying its dead after record-breaking rainfall from powerful Storm Daniel produced floodwaters that likely overwhelmed the two dams and led to their collapse.
After the dams failed, a wall of water several stories high ripped through the city, crashing into buildings, washing entire neighborhoods out to sea, and drowning thousands of people. More than 11,000 have died, according to the Libyan Red Crescent, and thousands more are missing. Officials fear the death count could reach 20,000.
In the aftermath of the latest blow to a country that has been mired in conflict and chaos for years, reports have surfaced that the two aging, clay-core embankment dams had not been properly maintained, making it likely they would collapse under intense pressure.
“Right now, that’s the big question—whether the dams were maintained,” says Jean Pierre Bardet, a professor of civil and architectural engineering for the University of Miami College of Engineering. “Dams are supposed to be maintained. It’s like a car—you can have a good design, but if you don’t maintain it, you are going to weaken it. In this case, many people are quick to say the dams were not maintained, but we need to be more patient and not jump too fast until we have more information.”
But whatever the cause of their failure, one thing is clear: From bridges and roads to dams and power plants, extreme weather fueled by climate change poses a serious threat to global infrastructure. This makes it critical for communities to adapt and become more resilient, experts agree.
“[The disaster in Libya] is in part a story about torrential rains dropping historical amounts of water. But it is, like nearly every climate resilience story, also one of a stressed community not having the capacity to account for new climate realities,” says Michael Berkowitz, executive director of the university’s Climate Resilience Academy and the chair in climate resilience.
Read the full article about Libyan floods and climate infrastructure by Robert C. Jones at Futurity.